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BOOK REVIEW – ROBERT BLOCH – AMERICAN GOTHIC 1974 Star Books.

 

Horror novel and melodramatic murder mystery by the author of psycho, attempting ambitiously to bridge the gap between the traditional and the modern styles used in the genre.

 

Dr. Gregg is an eccentric millionaire pharmacutical chemist who builds a castle – actually a folly hotel in castle design, in Chicago in 1893, to cater to guests at Chicago’s World Fair, where inventions like electricity and the telephone were promoted to the World.

 

Gregg is however, harbouring a number of secrets. His castle has brought him to the brink of bankrupsy and he has begun funding it by marrying rich women and killing them for the insurance money. He is actually a seriel killer in the Norman Bates tradition anyway (Bloch being the author of Psycho). Bodies are often disposed of in the castles secret chambers and through its booby traps.

 

Crystal, and her lover, Hogan, are reporters investigating the disappearances, and Gregg’s ability to get life insurance policies cashed rather too easily and frequently. Crystal gets herself onto the castle staff and Gregg grooms her up to be his next bride, almost succeeding due to his powerful hypnotic charms.  The shifting secret panels, Crystal trapped in a gas chamber, rooms that are there one day and gone the next, the backdrop of the World Fair itself, the final fire that trashes the castle hotel, etc, are all vividly brought to life. It’s surprising that no one has filmed this story to date.

 

The mix of styles makes an often exciting read rather dated. Gregg’s hypnotic ability seems an unnecessary supernatural add-on, and the dialogue between reporters and insurance investigators reads like that of hard-boiled cynical 1930’s pulp-novels.  The book never fails to entertain though. Interestingly, Bloch bases Gregg on a real life murderer who had a castle of this kind,  H. H. Holmes, just as Norman Bates had been modeled on the disturbed killer, Ed Gein

 

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